The inspiration for this show came after I saw a very well-produced documentary series called “Everest: Beyond The Limits” that’s available on Amazon Prime.
This extremely well-produced account covers numerous Mt. Everest guided expeditions over three seasons, and the cinematography is so beautiful that it makes you feel like you are right there on the mountain with the climbers. One of the most entertaining and emotion-stirring aspects of the show is watching the astonishing idiocy of ego-driven extreme competitors, who seemingly will stop at nothing to achieve their obsession of standing on the highest point on earth.
As I made my way through the episodes, I would often shout at the screen with exasperation at the behaviors and comments of the main protagonists. My need to vent results in a podcast episode that steps outside my usual content themes. However, I think there is some relevance here: it’s important to reflect on how our competitive instincts and goal-oriented mentalities can easily spin out of control to our detriment. In the case of Everest, overdoing it or doing it wrong can cost climbers their lives. Witness how 80% of deaths occur on the descent from the summit, because climbers extend past their limits and forget that getting to the top is only part of the challenge.
In this podcast episode, I throw down, and break down, five key aspects of extreme high altitude mountaineer that deserve scrutiny and perhaps recalibration. It seems these days that we are over-glorifying achievements—represented by ostentatious displays of wealth, physiques, power, and fame, and incredible athletic performances—performances that often transcend common sense and conflict with perceived honor the participant is trying to earn. Is your life void so large that you are willing to accept a 5% death rate on the mountain (310 overall deaths, 6,000+ summiteers…although death rate is slowing in recent as technology and safety measures improve.) If it’s just you on a wild ride (like the vagabond motorcyclist character in Season 1) to live for the moment, okay man go for it. If you have family back home, wow this is a tough endeavor to rationalize – unless you exhibit impeccable preparation, restraint, and strategy. That “personal summit” ideal just doesn’t seem to be enough for many folks.
I look forward to fielding your comments by email on firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep in mind I’m a huge fan of high altitude mountaineering and the incredible adventurous spirit of people who are called to great challenges like visiting the most inhospitable places on earth. I just have to call BS on stuff like doing so with an oxygen tank on your face, being less than impeccably prepared, or soldiering on with a broken down body and putting yourself and others at peril.
After viewing a series on Mt. Everest, Brad comments on the stupidity of some of the participants on the climb. [01:51]
The incredible human spirit and the camaraderie of those climbers is amazing but the prioritizing of the end result over sensible concerns for safety can be compared with some aspects of the lives of elite athletes. [03:22]
You have a 5 percent chance of dying on your route to the summit. Above 24,000 feet bodies of the deceased, cannot be rescued [06:59]
The use of bottled oxygen is cheating, according to Brad. The used steel tanks of oxygen bottles are left on the mountain as litter. [13:39]
If you are going to attempt something so challenging, train and get in shape. [24:42]
Many of these inexperienced climbers put their own personal goals ahead of the safety of others on the mountain. [29:44]
The correct goal of high-altitude mountaineering is not to just get to the summit, but to the summit and back down safely. [33:03]
Appreciate the economic aspects of the whole thing. Many Sherpas have lost their lives helping westerners try to summit. [37:20]
We appreciate all feedback, and questions for Q&A shows, emailed to email@example.com. If you have a moment, please share an episode you like with a quick text message, or leave a review on your podcast app. Thank you!
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I’m author and athlete, Brad Kearns. Welcome to the B.rad podcast, where we explore ways to pursue peak performance with passion throughout life. Visit brad kearns.com for great resources on healthy eating, exercise, and lifestyle. And here we go with the show.
Hi, listeners. I am going to mix it up a little bit, come at you from a little different angle and talk about Mount Everest, the highest peak on the planet at an elevation of 29,000 zero, 30 feet above sea level. And I’ve long been an enthusiast of the mountain climbing genre, love reading books like Into Thin Air and numerous other books like Seven Summits, and watching the great programming and cinematography like that IMAX film from years ago that was titled Everest and The Amazing Scenery that you could get in that IMAX theater. And I recently discovered a documentary on Amazon Prime called Everest Beyond the Limit. You can tell how far behind I am with my streaming entertainment because this program came out in 2006 and there’s three seasons. So it was like 2006, 2007, 2009. Uh, the title Everest Beyond the Limit and the filmmaking is wonderful. The story is really captivating. You’ll be drawn in right away. But one of the main reasons I was drawn in and intrigued and highly entertained was the disturbing realization of how incredibly stupid and ridiculous many of these enthusiasts are with their goal of summiting the highest peak on the planet.
So at the risk of offending the hardcore mountaineers, I am going to ramble on about some of the insights that I picked up from watching episode after episode of this incredible drama that had so many wonderful, uh, positive attributes, the incredible human spirit, the desire to conquer the highest mountain on the planet, and the teamwork and the camaraderie and all that great stuff that we celebrate. But also, the other things that I mentioned, the ridiculousness and especially the fake aspects of it that prioritize the end result over , even the most sensible weighing of the life or death risk that is at hand. And I think the relevance of the topic of this show is there when we talk about our overall, pursuit of health and fitness, appropriate age, appropriate lifestyle, appropriate goals, pursuing peak performance with passion throughout life, as I often talk about my theme and trying to reflect and make sure that we have a healthy perspective at all times, and what we see on the show and with the overall organization of how these these expeditions work is the unbelievable excess of the ego-driven, hard driving person who somehow forms the compulsion and the passionate desire to try and get to the top of the mountain.
And so I’m gonna give you some stats, some insights, and pick some things apart that really, uh, bother me and maybe it’ll get you riled up to, again, high regard for the production, the Everest Beyond the Limit Production available on Prime Video, I believe it was National Geographic, that that sponsored it or organized it. The cinematography is amazing. You get a tremendous sense of what it’s like to be climbing up the mountain and how incredibly difficult, incredibly steep the pitches are to get up there, even though it’s not known as a technical, overly technical climb where people are, uh, doing the ropes and, and climbing up sheer faces. Boy, is it a lot of physical effort to get up to the top. And of course, it’s incredibly dangerous due to the altitude and how it affects the body adversely and also the extreme weather patterns.
I didn’t realize that there’s only a couple weeks per year that you have even a chance of going for the summit because that’s when the jet stream gives a short break, and then the monsoon season is followed up after that. And so that’s why it’s so crowded on the mountain, and that’s why everybody is, you know, preparing for this very short weather window. And even then, as seen with the bestselling book in the movie Into Thin Air, a surprise storm can wreak havoc and cause massive death on an exhibition that was otherwise, uh, well thought out and going well. But the thing that I really want to call out is how strange and reckless and delusional the behavior of many of the lead characters are in the movie. And putting the ambition to achieve what’s, by all accounts, a pretty badass accomplishment.
You can probably have that on your resume and regale people at social gatherings for the rest of your life. That dude over there, he climbed Everest. Oh, tell me more about it. And you’re a superstar wherever you go. And I guess that’s the driving force behind these people that are throwing away common sense in pursuit of this incredible accomplishment. So here’s some stats you may have heard. The death rate is 5%, so that means 305 people have died on the mountain, and around 6,000, over 6,000 people have summited. So the percentage of success to death, you have a 5% chance of dying on your route to the summit. And in fact, 80% of all deaths have occurred on the dissent. That’s an interesting point that I’m going to talk about further when I do my lecture and, talk about my main contentions.
Also interesting is, uh, among those deaths, we have 186 paid climbers and then 119 of the Sherpas. And that are the, those are the local population that do the tremendous amount, the lions’ share of the workload to get these paying customers, largely highly affluent westerners that wanna knock off the accomplishment. And they rely tremendously on these teams of the amazing high altitude Sherpa that can carry heavy loads. They set the ropes for the entire mountain so that everyone else can safely climb while roped in to series, ongoing series of ropes, many, many miles of ropes, uh, starting at the base camp and winding all the way up to the very top of the mountain. So I’m gonna go over, let’s see, I have five key points about high altitude mountaineering and setting everyone straight, whoever’s listening, especially the experienced high altitude mountaineers that might go nuts, at the end of this.
And then, uh, offer up some pointed feedback to me. I welcome it. I promise you, you know what I did recently, I just saw a horrible, a truly horrible movie that was highly advertised on the streaming Amazon Prime. So when you log in, you see this big banner and you can’t help but look at it. And, um, the premise sounded cute. It was called People We Hate at the Wedding. It had some legit actors in there like Kristen Bell and Alison Janney, what the heck funny trailer. And it starts with the screenplay that’s coming from the writer’s perspective. And the screenplay was so terrible and just marginalizing typecasts and communities that are already marginalized and, um, you know, cheap, poorly considered jokes thrown in. And it was so bad I was compelled to write the screenwriter, and I tried to be really polite and say, Hey, I just wanted to let you know and give you some critical feedback that that was a terrible script.
And I remember the wonderful books interviewing some of the great screenwriters of all time like Paddy Chayefsky and William Goldman. And I remember some excerpts from those books where the, uh, the writer said that they absolutely sweat every single line and every single word of every screenplay they’ve ever written to make sure it’s absolutely perfect. And I just mentioned this in my email saying, I wonder if you mailed this one in and didn’t really sweat every line. And I pointed out some specific examples of just horrible, ridiculous jokes that fell flat and interrupted what might have been a good scene, thank you and good luck with your other projects. And, um, I got the answer back, “you are incredibly rude. Leave me alone.” That was the answer from this prominent Hollywood screenwriter. And I’m like, what part of that is rude? Just telling you straight up that, um, I thought your screenplay was terrible.
I don’t understand. And if you’re not receptive of feedback, it’s like, at least I took the time. So in my opinion, the first, uh, line back from the reply would be, thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. It means that I care. And I wanted to share with the screenwriter in hopes that it would, you know, better her, um, her life or her career, or at least get her thinking, or at least get some feedback knowing that this screenplay really horribly sucked. So I went on this tangent because anyone who objects to what I’m saying here, I welcome hearing from you and sorting things out because here we go winding up, man. And again, I wanna remind you that I have tremendous fascination and appreciation for this world of extreme mountaineering. I’ve read a lot of books, the Edmund Hillary, the Great New Zealander, who is the first person to summit Everest.
And his answer when they said, why are you, uh, why do you want to climb? And he said, because the mountain’s there has so many applications to real life. And just appreciating the process and, uh, taking on challenges, um, these great Sherpas, um, like the legendary Purpa and an Rita who have summited like over a dozen times, just amazing athletes and have done so much to help other climbers and keep things safe, keep things going. I also enjoyed the book about the 19 24, 19 24 expedition by the Englanders, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. And they perished on their climb, but they got way, way high up the mountain. Some people think they might have summited back in the twenties, that’s 30 years before Edmond Hillary did it in the fifties with his Sherpa. Um, so that was a wonderful book that was part mystery.
And they had a whole other expedition in recent times where the whole purpose was to go find the bodies of Mallory and Irvine retracing the notes and the information they had back in the day, and they indeed found the bodies up on the mountain. Interestingly, I told you there’s 305, people who have died, climbing or mostly descending Mount Everest, and almost all those bodies are just laying there sometimes really near the trail, right on the trail, because no human has the capability of transporting a dead body at that high altitude. And that’s a really critical factor in the whole story here, because if you get into any sort of trouble up in what they call the death zone, it’s above, I think they call it above 24,000 feet or something, where the oxygen is so thin that you literally cannot be rescued by other people.
Even if you had 10 people trying to let’s say, pick you up and carry your body further down the mountain where you might get medical attention, uh, it’s too difficult of a challenge. So everyone has to be self-sufficient. Okay? So here are my five insights or observations. Number one is about bottled oxygen. Oh my God, get the F outta here. What the heck is going on in this world? This extreme mountaineering world where the use of oxygen is widespread and considered a customary to the challenge of climbing Everest. Now, this is cheating, okay? The, the goal is to summit the highest peak on the planet, and you’re doing it with an oxygen mask on your face, running two to three liters of oxygen a minute. So, effectively, you are reducing the altitude by one expert estimate, by around 5,000 feet.
So you’re summiting a 24,000 foot peak rather than a 29,000 foot peak. The purists and the people who are at, uh, the, the highest level of sophistication in the sport will do these amazing climbs without oxygen. So, out of those, 6,000 individuals who have summited Mount Everest all time, there’s a very, very select group of true legends of the sport who have climbed Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. Now, the use of oxygen makes the climb much, much safer. You are much, much less likely to, uh, get frostbite, for example, you can stay warmer with the oxygen, you can keep your wits about you, so you don’t have that brain slowdown where you start making poor decisions or get uncoordinated and make one false step, and that would be your last step. So it kind of makes the whole sport safer and the whole excursions where you’re taking all these high-paying customers and trying to get ’em to the top of the mountain.
But I simply don’t understand, and I want you to convince me how this is legit when you are standing at the top of the world with an oxygen mask on your face. Ed Viesturs is one of the greatest mountaineers of all time. He’s an American from Washington. He’s climbed Everest and, uh, many other 8,000 meter peaks. There’s 14 of them total on the planet. He’s climbed them all, I believe all of ’em, without supplemental oxygen. But definitely he’s done this on Everest. And here’s his quote. 99% of the people who have climbed Everest would not have climbed Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. Ed continuing. If I’m going to climb a mountain that’s 29,000 feet high, I want to climb that 29,000 foot mountain. I, in respect for the mountain, I try to climb it under its terms. It’s not as intriguing If I quote, bring the mountain down. You know what it’s like, it’s like, uh, saying I want to go for a 100 mile bike ride drop me off at the top of Donner Pass, and I’m gonna pedal back down to Sacramento, California on a 100 mile, largely downhill route.
You still rode a hundred miles, congratulations, but it’s downhill. Or it’s like running a marathon. And they have a couple marathons on the calendar. I think one of ’em was in St. George, Utah, and there was another one in the outskirts of Vegas that ran from Gene Nevada to downtown Las Vegas with a slight downhill grade the entire way. So everyone could set a new PR. Are you effing kidding me? You’re gonna call your PR on a 100% downhill marathon . It just, I don’t know. So in in Brad’s world, what we would do would be to ban the use of bottled oxygen on the big mountains, thereby disqualifying 99% of the people who have made it to the top. And thereby getting rid of these ridiculous, disastrous traffic jams that you see. You can Google Everest traffic jam. We’ll put some link in the show, show notes.
These photos are absolutely stunning, where you see hundreds of people in the frame just jam packed together, hanging onto these ropes, trying to get up the mountain and trying to get down the mountain. And so these huge traffic jams up in the death zone where you don’t have enough oxygen. Even your time on the oxygen bottle has some limits. And so you’re risking your life due to the traffic jam, one of the most dangerous aspects of climbing Mount Everest. Oh, so what happens then? What happens then is you do the best you can to achieve an incredible mountaineering feat of rising up to some of the highest altitudes in the world. And if you’re in really top shape and well prepared, perhaps you’ll get up to camp two at 21,000 or camp three at 24,000, et cetera, et cetera. And then you start to feel weird, like you’ve reached your maximum or your friendly guide is telling you so, and you turn around with this tremendous sense of accomplishment of this athletic achievement of climbing to some of the highest points on the planet and leave the summit for those true superstars who are at the highest level and have trained and prepared and been on the mountain, or lived at altitude like the Sherpas, who, by and large have a huge physiological advantage.
They have really high hematocrits and all these other genetic attributes because of the, uh, time and the generations they’ve spent at extremely high altitudes. This reminds me of another time in my life when I went extremely off the rails on the occasion of the local youth soccer league, annual coaches’ meeting, and we’re talking about, uh, assorted matters of, uh, organizing the schedule and the teams and making things even, and all these great things. And the leader of the meeting, there’s probably 30 coaches in the room, you know, well-meaning dads that are trying to participate with their kids. And I took that whole journey really seriously, and I wanted to have the best experience for my teams. And a lot of that meant that you were gonna be participating in some imbalance games and imbalance seasons. And that particular season with my daughter’s team, we lost every single game by a huge margin.
And, I believe the, the total, goal count for the season was something like 125 against one goal. We scored one goal in the first game, so we lost the first game, eight to one, who knew that was going to be the highlight of the season in terms of the, the scoring volume. But the leader of the league was talking about the great, uh, technique that he uses during imbalance games where he developed a secret signaling protocol to his goalie and some of his players to allow a goal to be scored at the appropriate time when they were in the midst of a blowout with the intended purpose of allowing the other side of the soccer field, the parents and the kids to cheer and have a little bright shining light in the midst of their 10 to nothing blowout. And he says his piece.
And another coach says, you know, what I do is when we’re way ahead, we just pass the ball back and forth and we don’t advance or try to score a goal. We just work on our passing during the game. And another coach stands up and says, yeah, I also have a signal with my goalie, and the hand down means let a goal in, the hand straight this and this. And I am burning up like a steam mention in the back of the room looking around going, is anyone else feeling like this is complete BS? And, uh, I couldn’t help myself. Um, I stood up and I said, look, this is, a travesty what you’re doing. If you do that to my team, we are gonna take matters out to the parking lot. I’m going to immediately forfeit and I want to tell you what kind of message you’re sending to all the players, not only your own, but the kids on the other team that you need to let in, uh, charity goals.
And, uh, now it starts to get a little breezy in there. And the people are challenging me saying, look, they don’t know we do a really good job, and they can’t tell. So it seems like we’re trying, when they score a goal, I go, you know, when everybody knows it’s Tuesday afternoon at the drinking fountain at school, when they start talking trash, and that’s when the, you know, the repercussions all come out. And I said, you know, what is wrong with a team losing a soccer game 12 to nothing? It’s part of life. It’s a personal growth experience. We don’t have to shield our kids from the trauma of getting their asses kicked on the soccer field, and it’s possibly only the parents are the ones that are suffering in anguish and need to see that fake goal being scored. So it was a fun discussion because I think I got some people thinking about the other side of the coin there, and the negative repercussions of not trying.
I think that’s the ultimate example of poor sportsmanship and a misappropriation of all the ideals of youth sports where, you know what, it’s okay to win 10 to nothing also. And, uh, on this context, of course, what you can do then when you’re way ahead, is you empty your bench. You give kids a chance who have never played on the frontline, you know, where they’re trying to score goals. You give some new kids a chance, maybe not your best players. Maybe you put your best players back on defense. Maybe you try someone different offensive strategies, but you don’t fold and you don’t fabricate competitive setting in the pursuit of, uh, , I don’t know, pursuit of, of what is it actually when a kid scores a fake goal? Oh my gosh., I’m gonna calm down and go back to Mount Everest and draw that analogy to the freaking oxygen.
By the way, we talked about the dead bodies just laying there on Mount Everest. All the oxygen bottles are just dumped because they don’t have the strength to carry these things down the mountain to the nearest recycle yard. So there are literally tens of thousands of these heavy duty, steel tanks of oxygen just discarded along the route. It’s a trash, it’s a trash heap. This path to Mount Everest. A little more on oxygen from Biophysicist Thomas Hornbein, who climbed Mount Everest in 1963. He calculated that if you’re sitting on top of the summit, it feels only about half as high when you’re sitting there resting and taking pictures. And when you’re working hard, as I mentioned before. So you’re climbing, then you’re getting an improvement of about 5,000 feet. So you’re 5,000 feet elevation reduction, thanks to flowing two to three liters a minute from the oxygen masks. So number one, oxygen, A Y F K M, that’s Mark Sisson’s favorite acronym. Are you F–ing kidding me?
Okay. Talked enough about that. Number two is when you’re going to attempt something this extreme, this life or death challenge with this amazing accomplishment of getting to the top and taking the pictures and planting the flag, train your off and show up to base camp, the fittest specimen you could possibly be, where you’ve done everything you could for one year, two year, three years of intensive preparation, climbing lower mountains, learning how to use the equipment, putting yourself into challenging situations, pushing your body as an endurance athlete to be fully prepared to put your life on the line, to go and try to get up to the summit. But what we see routinely, especially on Everest, because it has the most allure, it’s getting to the top of the world, we see novice climbers in groups from all over the planet, from Japan, from India, from the United States of America.
And the documentary was showing the different teams and the trouble that they get into. So here’s a guy on the Indian expedition who collapsed from cerebral edema, and he’s laying in the snow about to die. And so all other bets are off, and everyone has to scramble to try to help rescue someone who was ill prepared to be up there in the first place. And as I mentioned with the Sherpas, these novice climbers that insist on forging ahead are putting the lives at risk of these wonderful Sherpas. We’re gonna talk about them and a whole, a separate bullet here. Uh, but the idea of being a novice or being less than an absolute fitness superstar when you show up at base camp is so ludicrous, and it unprecedented, really, I mean, the big wave surfers. When you see, uh, Kai Leni shredding, uh, the big break day at Jaws, or going out to Mavericks, you don’t see any novice big wave surfers out there.
You see people that have ridden thousands of waves that were six feet tall, uh, hundreds and hundreds of waves that were 20 feet tall, and then they’re gonna paddle out and try to tackle a 60 foot wave. Now, in athletics, you’re not always going to be your very best every time you compete. So you’re gonna have, if you’re an endurance athlete, for example, you’re gonna have some marathons or some ultras or an Ironman race where your preparation didn’t quite go according to plan. I was just talking to my wonderful physician who worked on my heel spur and completed the Ironman, even though she had some really serious hamstring injuries that prevented her from doing any running training, but she biked her butt off and jogged and walked, uh, what little she could and wanted to experience that, that great honor of going over to Kona and completing the Ironman, even though it’s much slower than her ideal preparation.
Now, that’s fine if you’re going a little slower to the finish line in Kona, but on Everest, if you screw up or you are less fit than you hope for, you can die. So this should be a 100% all or nothing competitive endeavor where everything has gone fantastically well in preparation, or you pass, you forfeit and try again another year. And furthermore, uh, show up a hundred percent fantastic. And then set the intention that every step of the way things are going smoothly, and you are feeling competent and within your capabilities at all times, or you turn your ass around right away. And this is what got me absolutely riled up. Mia Moore was looking over at me when I had my headphones on, and she wasn’t watching the same program, and I’m cursing over and over at these people because you would not believe the, the delusional, uh, behavior and the hubris that you see from these characters on the show and one centerpiece character of the first season.
You can’t miss him because they feature him over and over. He’s got a lot of swagger. He’s a cool biker dude that decides to conquer Everest clearly unprepared and not an athletically high and level person. He had a broken down mot body with all these surgeries from a near fatal motorcycle accident. But he’s going to the top no matter what, and defying the orders of the, uh, the group leader who’s trying to look out for everyone’s safety, including the Sherpas. And so with his dogged perseverance, he put a many other climbers and sherpa’s in danger. And this all played out dramatically on the show. So you could make your your own decisions for what you think about, uh, the character attributes displayed. And, it turns out this guy went on to a career as a motivational speaker.
Holy crap. I wonder what he would have to say about putting others’ lives in danger, in dogged pursuit of your own personal goals, not to mention your own life. Another favorite I had was a journalist who did a story on the afore-mentioned lead character, and decided that she would go up the next year despite having very minimal climbing experience. And, some of the wisecracks that you got to see on the program was how she put her crampons on backwards the first time. In other words, crampons are the spikes that you wrap around your boots so you can climb a mountain in ice. They’re integral to the experience of mountain climbing when you’re not on a dirt trail anymore, when we’re getting up in the high mountains. So someone putting their crampons backwards, the life or death, challenge of climbing Mount Everest, what the hell are you doing there?
And again, she had to be sat down like a school child and told that she wasn’t allowed to, uh, join the team that was going for the summit because she wasn’t prepared and get to shed tears and beg for a spot. Numerous people were begging for a spot in the lineup and had to be told that they just weren’t ready with the evidence, staring them clearly in the face. Here’s another guy on different season who shows up to base camp on the heels of over 30 knee surgeries. So he had a totally screwed up knee that was put together with, uh, artificial parts. It would go out of socket and he’d be lying on the ground writhing in pain and have to have his climbing partner, uh, dislocate the joint, twist it, and put it back into position.
And sure enough, he got into trouble high on the mountain. Numerous people had to painstakingly, uh, assist him in getting back down to base camp safely. It was an amazing rescue, another tremendous performance by the Sherpas. And here’s the guy in base camp nursing, what’s likely to be a broken rib, as well as the trick knee, the unstable knee. And after a couple days of recovery, I thought that was it for him. No, he’s begging the group leader to give him another chance to try for the summit a couple days later. And he had to be tol in no uncertain terms, no, dude, you’re not ready. Oh my gosh. I mean, just, as I said, entertaining, humorous, but not for, um, the appropriate reasons.
And that brings us to point number three. So number one was oxygen. Get the F** outta here. Number two is train your off before even pondering showing up at base camp as a candidate, uh, for one of the summit teams, and keep that intention all the way that you wanna feel pretty darn awesome. Again, I’m not talking about you wanna have high energy and a smile all the way up because you’re gonna be pushing the absolute limits of human performance, and you’re not gonna feel great. But when you have a knee that’s getting dislocated, or you’re uncapable of putting your crampons on correctly, you have that little experience, or you’re putting others in danger, and your, your experience group leader is shouting at you on the radio to get your back down to the descending camp. Don’t, uh, disregard him or try to angle and negotiate. Oh, mercy. Okay?
So number three is to, understand the correct goal of high altitude mountaineering. And that is not to get to the summit, but to get to the summit and return safely. Um, seems simple and obvious, but clearly when we get that summit fever as it’s called, you start to lose your critical thinking abilities, and you want to soldier on to the summit, not realizing that’s the halfway point of the journey, and that you require a tremendous amount of energy reserve in order to get back down. Of course, descendings easier than climbing. But I think what happens to a lot of people is they use every bit of their energy as they’re looking up in the sky, getting closer and closer and closer to the summit, not realizing that the energy tank is getting depleted, depleted to where they’re at the top with only, you know, one eighth of a tank left. And it’s going to be very, very difficult getting down.
Or let’s say their fingers and toes are starting to get numb, and they’re almost to the summit. They only have another hour. They only have another two hours. But when the early stages of frostbite are occurring, and again, you’re still ascending and making things more difficult and more dangerous, that’s when you are putting yourself into high risk life or death circumstances with every, uh, forward step rather than a retreat step, as evidenced by the 80% of deaths that occur on the dissent. So my recalibration here, as mentioned earlier, is just go with the intention of setting a personal record for the highest altitude that you’ve ever reached, and be content turning around saying, oh, here I am at camp four, um, , my knee is still crappy, or having trouble breathing, whatever it is, I’m gonna turn around and high five and celebrate this amazing accomplishment of reaching blank, thousands feet above sea level.
I am reminded of, uh, participants in the Western states, a hundred mile run where I used to live in Auburn, California, and everybody was universally bummed if they didn’t finish and get their belt buckle at the finish line. And so I talked to these runners in the aftermath. How did it go? Well, yeah, I had to drop out at 77 miles, and I would say, wow, congratulations. That’s amazing. No, no, I dropped out. I said, no, you ran 77 miles in one day. Is that the furthest you’ve ever run? Uh, yeah. Well, I go, well, that’s incredible. That’s an amazing accomplishment. Maybe you can come back in the future and aspire to make it all the way to the finish line, but if your finish line is 77 miles, that’s nothing. But a congratulations and a fantastic achievement. It’s just needs to be reframed, , you know, I’m sorry, your finish line wasn’t the a hundred miles that day, but what’s meant to be is meant to be.
And you know, that’s the same for having the strength of character to turn around somewhere on the mountain. That might not be the actual summit, but it might be your summit. There was one guy on the show, he was a Los Angeles firefighter, and he, you know, he was turned around early and he was, uh, being interviewed in base camp saying, yeah, I reached my summit, on this trip, and it just didn’t happen to be the top so good for him. Finally, with a someone with a talking sense there, for example, this 2022 season, my old friends from the Taft High School basketball team made it up on their trek to a height of 18,400 feet. That’s a shitload higher than anyone else I know has ever been on the planet. Um, what a fantastic accomplishment. They didn’t have any designs on, being actual climbers going for the summit, but they trained hard and had a great time, uh, on this journey, going much higher than they’ve ever been in their lives.
So how about that? What, whatever your own personal summit is, now I’m drawing some practical analogies to the rest of your life. You know, pursue your personal summit in life, not necessarily the actual summit, because you gotta get back down.
That brings us to number four, which is to appreciate the economic aspects of this whole thing because there’s some blood on everyone’s hands when we talk about the number of Sherpas that have lost their lives. And this is a extremely low socioeconomic population by comparison to Western society. And they’re paid, uh, I guess you could say fairly, because they live at a high standard, uh, relatively to their very low socioeconomic conditions. When they are good experienced Sherpas, I believe they’ll make, you know, 15, $20,000 income for being at the very best in their profession in the world.
Uh, but 119 of them have died for the sole purpose of trying to help Westerners summit the highest mountain on earth. Many of them grossly unprepared and illogical in their putting the Sherpas in danger. And so, um, that’s the, the, the sadness of the whole scene there is that we’re leaning on these people to a tremendous degree, throwing them a few pennies relatively to the investment that the Westerners making to get on one of the expeditions, which, the price point is up there, 50 to $60,000, some of ’em even higher, to get everything you need rolled out on the red carpet to get you to the top of the summit. That’s your oxygen bottles, that’s your food, that’s your tents, that’s carrying all the loads except for your carrying your personal backpack load and the Sherpa is guiding you every step of the way, uh, with a one-on-one relationship all the way to the top and the example of the best expedition groups.
And so, uh, on the flip side of that reality that the Sherpas are risking their life for economic opportunity, which, uh, could be described as frivolous overall because there’s no driving purpose to get people up to the top of the mountain to take pictures. It’s not like we’re trying to colonize a space station and for the betterment of humanity. It’s basically, uh, just hobby. On the flip side is the massive investment that a lot of westerners are making to get on these teams. And thereby putting that self-imposed pressure on that, I sure as hell better get to the top if I blew $50,000 in a couple months of my life, uh, to go sit on this mountain and wait around and acclimate. So that the journey and the attempt takes many, many weeks because of the acclimation process where you have to sit around at base camp, you have to go up to a high camp and then go back down and rest, and then go up again, and then go back down on rest and wait to go for that particular time window when you can actually make a summit push.
But you can’t quickly ascend from whatever near sea level existence you’ve been living in get off the airplane and start hiking all the way up to the top. Your body takes a long time to, to acclimate. And so that economic pressure felt by the people who are making the ill-advised attempts when they’re not fully prepared, that’s a real problem too. I think the saddest example was highlighted in John Krakauer’s book into Thin Air, where the world renowned guide Rob Hall from New Zealand lost his life with one of his favorite clients where they summited, and then they got caught in the storm on the way down, and they couldn’t move. So they were stuck up at 26,000 feet or whatever for a long time. And they basically, I think froze to death. And the client was a two timer, and he was this, uh, postal worker from Seattle, I believe, sorry if I’m butchering the story.
But he had one failed attempt, or he got really close on a previous year. And, Rob Hall, the highly respected guide, uh, known for his safety, uh, considerations, turned him around really close to the summit. So I believe the deal was that he invited this guy back at a discounted rate because this guy, unlike most of the climbers on the expeditions, was really on a budget, and he just had so much desire to, to climb the mountain that he was enticed to come back, discounted rate, still a lot of investment for him, but by golly, um, Rob Wall, Rob Hall wasn’t gonna let this guy fail twice in a row when he came. So, agonizingly close the previous year. So sure enough, they got to the summit. Uh, Rob Hall, uh, went against his longstanding firm commitments to turn around at certain times to, to ensure safety.
I believe it’s 2:00 PM if you’re not summited by 2:00 PM wherever you are, you turn around to make sure you have enough time window to get down before the weather changes. And he went against that for the first time because of that emotional connection to this guy’s dream and his second attempt. And it cost both of them their lives. Who can forget the, uh, the drama of being able to communicate on satellite phone from the position where they were stuck. So Rob Hall was talking to his pregnant wife back in New Zealand basically saying goodbye, discussing his predicament there, and that they doesn’t, didn’t look good, they were gonna get out of it. So that’s the economic aspects and trying to put those in a healthy perspective when we have so many unhealthy aspects of that Sherpa to highly paid expeditioner dynamic.
And then finally, um, number five is, uh, get over yourself. So, uh, let’s ask, how the hell did we get so distorted with these, um, peak performance goals, especially the widely celebrated person who has climbed Mount Everest, and who are these candidates that are risking their lives at that 5% margin? I mean, would you participate in anything that had a 5% death rate? I don’t think too many people would nod their head, sure, I’d go for it anyway. So perhaps there are some aspects of life being outta balance that compels these people to, uh, to go and put their lives on the line and fly halfway across the world and endure some incredible pain and suffering and torture and risk in order to knock this off on their to-do list. And I will certainly say that, uh, if your life’s outta balance and you have that big void that you’re trying to fill, uh, it’s certainly better to en engage in, let’s say, extreme athletic pursuits than to descend into a spiral of addiction behavior or degenerative partying or whatever.
But look, um, those of you who are listening and thinking of climbing Mount Everest to fill that void in your life, uh, it’s important to reflect that you are, you’re, you’re a valuable person. You have something to offer. You don’t need to go risk your life to validate your worth as a person. So get over yourself a little bit before you before you plunk down for a chance at dying and putting others in danger up, up high in the mountains, . Okay? Okay. So that’s the message to the lost aimless soul who’s looking for, uh, a sense of, uh, value and meaning, uh, to one’s individual life. But for those of you out there who have families, and boy, we had some, uh, footage on the, uh, on the episodes of people giving little messages back to their kids.
One of ’em, uh, wanted to, uh, climb to the top so that his kids would be proud of him. Oh my God, gag me again, just like with the oxygen bottles. Another one was, um, a guy talking about he made a big wager, uh, in the bar to his mates back home in Ireland. And so by golly, he was gonna do it to show them what he was capable of. And this is, again, a good place to call BS for using these as, uh, motivational, uh, attributes. And it reminds me of, uh, a lot of triathletes I talk to who would talk to me about their, their highest goals and purpose for competing and for, for challenging themselves. And oftentimes it would come out, uh, I wanna be a role model to my children, ages 11 and 14.
They can see me cross the finish line, uh, of the Ironman and realize that, you know, that big dreams are possible or that, uh, their father or mother is a badass. And I would always challenge that, uh, with the, um, the, the counterpoint that probably your 11 year old and your 14 year old don’t really care that much to sit around and wait around for 14 hours while you’re swimming and bicycle riding and running across the lava fields or whatever Ironman venue. They probably just want to go get something to eat. And it might be fun to watch you finish for a few moments. But don’t kid yourself that you’re doing this for some higher grand purpose when what you’re doing is largely a selfish pursuit. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t over dramatize it or over glorify it.
So that goes under the category of getting over yourself and pursuing goals for the pure enjoyment of the process, uh, making sure that they’re age appropriate, lifestyle appropriate, and have proper risk management in place. So when you’re talking about Everest and that 5% death rate, it’s hard to talk me into, um, the idea that is risk appropriate for anyone except perhaps, the extreme bad asses who use all modern technology to, um, check on the weather, have the right equipment, the right fitness, the right preparation, the right strategy. Then it becomes a really compelling challenge where again, there’s still a huge element of risk, but you don’t have that pilot error, that user error coming into the mix where you’re trying to drag your dysfunctional joint or your, um, your bad back or your broken bones up the mountain.
I don’t think that is a champion’s journey. I would rather point to the great legends like Reinhold Andreas Messner widely regarded as the greatest mountaineer of all time. The first person to climb all 14, 8,000 meter peaks in doing so without bottled oxygen or a little more present day. Ed Viesturs who’s pretty much retired from his extreme performances, but he still guides and is still active in the mountaineering community and they deserve to be celebrated as legends. And the rest of us take the freaking oxygen mask off your face and see how high you can climb if that really means a lot to you. But let’s put our goals and proper perspective.
Okay? Thanks for letting me vent a little bit, and I hope you enjoy the show. It’s really cool entertainment value, especially if it gets you, uh, riled up in an emotional manner and perhaps helping you to, uh, keep your own goals and your own perspective in check. Thanks for listening and, uh, bring some feedback. Bring it on podcast brad ventures.com. Woo.
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